Below is the text of the speech made by John Major, the then Prime Minister, on 23 January 1995.
I’m very glad you could all be here. I tend to spend most of my time concentrating on the political process in Northern Ireland, and I believe we are making progress. But the nuts and bolts of how we help the peace work on the ground is equally important. It is up to the politicians to make the peace. But it is up to the people to make the peace work. So I am really looking forward to your ideas.
Economic progress will be essential. The prospect of peace of already boosting the local economy. I was struck by the sea change in attitudes when I visited Belfast last month. We have seen the sales rise in Belfast’s shopping malls by up to 90%, a CBI survey rating confidence in the Northern Ireland economy at the highest level since 1987, unemployment down and the number of jobs up. So a spectacular recovery is already underway. But Northern Ireland needs more investment, more prosperity and more jobs if the peace that we seek is to be successfully underpinned.
That was why we held the Investment Conference in Belfast last month. This generated a tremendous response. It reflected the new mood of hope on the ground. This will bring more jobs to the Province. And it will change the way people look at Northern Ireland.
Today, Northern Ireland is an exciting investment opportunity. Many of those at the Conference saw that potential. Already, I understand that nearly 20 possible new projects are now being explored. But in the end the prosperity of Northern Ireland depends on the people of Northern Ireland. And that is why I am so hopeful.
As leaders of the District Councils, you have a major role both in local economic development and in helping to heal community division. You can help create the climate in which peace can take root. And if you succeed, we shall all look back on this time as an historic turning point.
I see this meeting as the start of a process of close consultation. All the Northern Ireland team are here today to listen to what you say and then carry it forward.
One of the issues we must discuss is how to deploy the welcome package of extra EU help. It won’t be possible to please everyone. But we want your views before we discuss with the European Commission how to allocate these funds. We aim to make the best use of them.
But you also want greater resources to promote local economic development. So let me announce today two initiatives which I hope will help:
– I know that District Councils would like to spend more of the District rate on local economic development. I have therefore decided that the Government will introduce legislation soon to double the present provision from 2p in the £ to 4p in the £.
– Second, we shall increase the resource elements in your General Grant by £2 million from a total of £17.8 million to just under £20 million. This will help you exploit this unique opportunity to use your district rate for economic redevelopment.
We have also allocated a further £5 million to the Community Regeneration and Special Programme (CRISP). This will enable a further 25 projects in disadvantaged towns and villages over the next three years.
I mentioned earlier the crucial role of the District Councils in developing community relations. Because I see you as uniquely placed to promote this, I have decided to extend the District Councils Community Relations Programme for a further three year period up to March 1998.
Before calling on the first speaker, let me say a word about something which is not on our agenda today – the Joint Framework Document.
There has been a great deal of speculation about it, which can unsettle people.
So let me stress four points:
– First, the document has only one purpose, which is to help the political Parties themselves to find an agreed way forward in the talks process. It will indicate one set of ideas, drawing on the talks of the past four years, on how a settlement might be found which would gain the necessary wide support across the community. But, as we have repeatedly said, there will be no question of the two Governments imposing a blueprint on the Parties. These will be proposals for negotiation.
– Second, our proposals are not yet completed. I want to complete them as soon as possible, so that we can then publish them. The people of Northern Ireland will then be able to judge for themselves all the suggestions – including our parallel suggestions for new arrangements within Northern Ireland. They will be able to comment on them to us and to the political Parties.
– Third, when the proposals are published, you will find no provision for the British and Irish Governments to exercise joint authority over the affairs of Northern Ireland. That has never been our intention, and that will not be our proposal.
– Fourth, the need for consent remains paramount. And agreed outcome will finally be put to the people of Northern Ireland in a referendum. The voice of the people will decide these matters.
I am taking this opportunity to reassure anyone who has been concerned at partial interpretations of what many be in a very full and careful set of proposals. I cannot yet say when they will be completed. But when they are, I hope that people will read them with equal care before forming their own opinions.
Let me now return to the business of this meeting.
We have three agenda items, one in two parts:
– economic growth
– urban and regional regeneration
We have four speakers, who will give a brief introduction to each item. I shall then call for short interventions from others, so that we can gather in as many ideas and opinions as possible.